Elevator Pitch

Written by Linwood Barclay

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Elevator Pitch
HQ Harpercollins
RRP: £20
Released: September 5 2019

This new work by Linwood Barclay is his most audacious, blending character to a high-tech, high-concept premise inducing vertigo in the reader. Following from the claustrophobia of his last novel, A Noise Downstairs; Barclay broadens his vista moving from a suburban backdrop to the big city.

New York becomes gripped by what appears as a tragedy, a freak accident - but soon becomes something worse, something perplexing to a city that relies on height to function. An elevator (aka ‘Lift’) in Lansing Tower malfunctions taking with it a wannabe (and desperate) screenwriter trying to pitch his script to an executive of Cromwell Entertainment. It contains two others. The elevator ascends to the top of the skyscraper and then descends into free-fall. The horrific deaths of the four occupants trapped in that elevator eponymously gives this thriller its signature, and curiously, a theme of sorts.

Another elevator incident occurs, and then another, gripping the city with an understanding that something else is at play, something more troubling than a random failure in the modern infrastructure of today’s society.  

There are backdrops to these falling elevators, upon which characters are built to raise this story into one that captivates the reader. These figures, these characters also encounter the politics of City Hall and its mayor Richard Wilson Headley. There’s the journalist Barbara Matheson who lost someone in the Lansing Tower incident, her daughter Arla, a domestic terrorist group the ‘flyovers’; the enigmatic Eugene Clement and his wife are all added to the pot. Then there are the hardworking Detectives Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado investigating an unidentified (and seemingly unidentifiable body), one that may have significance to these elevator incidents.

Barclay has adopted the short-chapter approach, bolting these characters to the narrative with deft literary strokes so they remain vivid in the reader’s mind, standing tall against the urgency of the narrative. The police (NYPD), as well as the politicians come under huge pressure to uncover what is going on, and more importantly, the ‘why’.

People are forced to take the stairs, as fear grips New York. Questions of terrorism as a motive, vie with other incidents such as an exploding taxi cab, the mystery of elevator technician Otto Petrenko. Are the opposing sides of far-right, or Islamic terrorism involved? Or is the panic induced by something closer to home. The FBI ‘s Renata Geller, Homeland Security’s Brian Cartland are just two of the myriad characters who striate the plot, adding to the complexity that Barclay navigates. Do not get fooled by the amiable nature of the writing style, for there is darkness and danger as no one is truly innocent.

The author does not fall into the trap (or shaft), that many techno-thriller writers such as Michael Crichton have been be accused of in the past; namely sacrificing character in lieu of narrative premise. Instead, it’s the characters that people the high-tech backdrop that make this such an interesting novel.

With nods and winks to our current geo-political confusion by our media, to the online world that links the real one; this is a novel that captures the imagination of the reader, gripping it by the voice of a literary master.

Escrowing the claustrophobia of a small-town mystery, to the open skies of the big city, former journalist Linwood Barclay illustrates the versatility of his narrative skills, returning to the larger canvas.

Elevator Pitch is one of the most exciting thrillers I’ve read this year. Its intriguing and thought-provoking premise was matched by the startling denouement, ensuring it was well-worth the ride.  Despite its heft, and narrative complexity, it is a very fast read.

It’s a book that made me pause when those lift-doors closed. I pondered if it would have been better for my health if I had taken the stairwell.

Not a novel to be missed, trust me.

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